[This post is part of the Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe series]
In many ways, this chapter is a condensation of Driscoll and Breshear’s other book Vintage Jesus. Having read that previously myself, this chapter comes off as a CliffNotes of sorts. That being said though, it is still a very thorough treatment of the subject. The questions answered are:
- What does Incarnation mean?
- How did people know God was coming?
- How did God come into human history?
- Was Jesus fully God?
- Was Jesus fully human?
- How could God become a man?
- What are some prominent false teachings about the doctrine of the Incarnation?
- How is Jesus’ Incarnation a source of great comfort?
- What difference does the doctrine of the Incarnation make in our life?
There are definitely more than a few issues converging in this single chapter. It might be helpful though to distinguish two basic thrusts. The first is that this chapter is attempting primarily to answers these questions from the Biblical data itself. In light of that, many of the questions could be rephrased this way:
- What does the Old Testament teach about the Incarnation?
- What do the Gospels teach about the Incarnation?
- What does the Bible teach about Jesus’ divinity?
- What does the Bible teach about Jesus’ humanity?
- How did the early church clarify teaching on the Incarnation?
- How is the Incarnation relevant to the Christian life?
The second basic thrust is that while Vintage Jesus is aimed at the more skeptical inquirer and delves deeper into the historical realities that surround the coming of Christ, Doctrine is aimed primarily at a Christian audience and so is assuming the reader is already on board with the reliability and historicity of the Bible. As one can see from my reformulation of the questions, if you think the Bible is unreliable and non-historical, then the answers to these questions do not really seem to strike at the real skeptical question – did Jesus really exist and what of him?
For the skeptical inquirer, this chapter is not devoid of value. It at least will help to give the correct understanding of what the Bible teaches about Jesus Christ in his person and work in his first coming. After reading this carefully, one will know very clearly what the Bible teaches on the subject, which is a definite strength to either the Christian or skeptical reader.
All of that being said, the only weak spot is in the treatment of Old Testament messianic prophecy. This is unfortunately a recurring issue with this book, as earlier chapters have born out. Some of it is failure to distinguish between what we can understand now looking back at the Old Testament, and what the Old Testament believer would have understood at the time of the original writing. Admittedly, it is hard to completely grasp what that might have been, but one thing that does emerge is that a unified concept of a singular “messiah” doesn’t emerge until the Inter-testamental Period, and even then, it is not explicit that Messiah would be divine.
In fact, from Jesus’ death itself, and from later writings in the Talmud, we can learn that the Jews had no problem with Jesus being the Messiah, but they had every problem in the world with him claiming to be God incarnate. Had the OT prophecies been crystal clear in advance that Messiah would be Yahweh himself, what actually happened becomes difficult to explain. It is only until one realizes that in the Old Testament, there is no singular “the Messiah” prophesied (it is never definite in the Hebrew, always anarthrous, i.e. without the article). In many ways, there is a rather variegated picture of what messiah would look like, and only now can we see that they all pointed to Christ.
All of this is to say, this chapter seems to overstep the Biblical data in the Old Testament and argue for too certain of an expectation in advance. The reality of the matter is that now it is rather clear, but it is only as we are reading the Old Testament Christologically (or one could even say Christotelically, pointing to an end in Christ) that we can see how manifold the Old Testament prophecies really are.